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Phrasing and Willie Nelson

28 Jun 00 - 04:30 AM (#248358)
Subject: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: The Shambles

I recently saw Willie Nelson on TV, from his performance at The Glastonbury Festival. He was singing 'standards' like Blue Skies.

Now part of the attraction of well known songs is that the audience can sing along and I tried to.

His phrasing, whilst very nice to hear, was so individual as to make singing with him very difficult, if not impossible. Listening to him singing these songs made it very obvious quite how distinct was, his timing and intonation.

Why and how is it that some singers can retain this very individual style of phrasing in the face of more conventional styles and not get it beaten out of them? Being told for instance that you are 'not doing it right'.

Or is it more a question of this individual style developing with time and encouragement?

28 Jun 00 - 08:47 AM (#248422)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: Peter T.

Willie Nelson is easy to sing with -- the secret is that you have to imitate the voice -- get the sound up in the nose, with that slight whinny, and get yourself a bottle of whiskey. Lots of ritard. After that, it is really no problem.
yours, Peter T.

28 Jun 00 - 09:05 AM (#248434)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler

...and of course you have to bash a hole in your guitar to get the right backing sound...

28 Jun 00 - 09:27 AM (#248448)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: GUEST,moonchild @ work

Many people have sung/recorded Willie Nelson's song, however, it has always been my opinion that NO ONE sings a Willie Nelson song like Willie Nelson, because of his unique phrasing... moonchild

28 Jun 00 - 09:44 AM (#248461)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: Jim the Bart

I have always thought that Willie must have been influenced early in his career by Dinah Washington. The phrasing is more jazz influenced than country.
Willie's always been too "wide-band" for country traditionalists. Many of his early songs - Crazy, Funny How Time Slips Away, The Nightlife - are as much jazz standards as country. Luckily, the country music audience is much more willing to accept music from other sources. People may have an image of "narrow-minded rednecks" as the core country audience, but I have found that the opposite is true. If they like you, personally, you can do almost anything.

28 Jun 00 - 10:39 AM (#248500)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: Steve Latimer

Ah, Willie. One of my very favourites. His phrasing is definately his own, and his guitar playing is unique. I think he is one of the greatest songwriters of our time. And I agree with Moonchild, you haven't heard a Willie song sung until you've heard him do it (with absolutely no disrepect to Patsy Cline, Faron Young, Ray Price etc), although Aretha does and awesome job with Nightlife.

Willie plays and sings by feel. And I think more than anything feel is what music is all about. His timing changes with his mood, so each song is fresh.

The other thing is, you haven't heard Willie until you've seen him live. His shows are absolutely spellbinding.

28 Jun 00 - 12:01 PM (#248534)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: Giac

Many years ago I saw a Willie and Family Live tour
performance in a large university's basketball arena.
The stage was set up at one end, so that the audience
was on three sides of the arena and the band had their
backs to the fourth side.

The general seating performance was oversold, which
meant that the unfortunates who arrived at the last
minute were in the seats above and behind the
stage. My friends and I were among those. Willie had
done about three tunes (his band goes from one tune
straight into another with little chit-chat) when he
turned to get a drink that was sitting on an amp. He
looked up and saw about 30 of us peering down from
the dark. He grinned, and without dropping a beat or
a word, strolled around to each member of the group,
include his sister Bonnie on piano, and said something
to them. On the next tune, every performer (except
the drummer and Bonnie) turned around and they played
to us. For the rest of the long, intense, incredible
evening, about every fourth or fifth tune was aimed
to the back of the arena. When the crowd became aware
of his gesture, there was a roar of approval for this
superstar who actually cared about his fans.

And, he does make it look easy, doesn't he ...

28 Jun 00 - 05:24 PM (#248725)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: Pixie

I don't know that I would want to try and play rhythm guitar with him......never know where he's going! Love his music though!

28 Jun 00 - 05:55 PM (#248746)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: GUEST,Banjo Johnny

Great writer, lousy singer. There's a fellow here who sounds Exactly like WN and does all his songs Exactly like Willie does. What's the point? If you want to hear great jazz phrasing, listen to the master, Frank Sinatra. No flames, please. == Johnny in Oklahoma City

28 Jun 00 - 11:42 PM (#248937)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: gillymor

I'll second that BJ. Your Sinatra asessment, anyway. Much of the stuff Sinatra did in the fifties is the book on phrasing,IMHO. Just wish he hadn't kneed so many blackjack dealers in the groin.


29 Jun 00 - 03:09 AM (#249015)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: Joe Offer

Oh, I'm sure that Sinatra and many others may be far better than Willie Nelson, but it was Willie who taught me to love my father's music. Once Willie got me to love that music, THEN I found out about Sinatra and Peggy Lee, and Dinah Washington, and Ella Fitzgerald, and so many others.
For me, it was Willie who bridged the gap between my father's generation and mine.
-Joe Offer-

29 Jun 00 - 08:49 AM (#249087)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: GUEST,Peter T.

Willie Nelson is not everyone's taste, but he is not a lousy singer (there, no flames at all). Try singing "Stardust" sometime, casual-like, and see how easy it is.

yours, Peter T.

29 Jun 00 - 10:28 AM (#249148)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: Steve Latimer

Pixie, I can't remember if it was Waylon Jennings or Kris Kristofferson I saw interviewed, but they were saying how trying to play with Willie drove them around the bend because of his timing. I guess that's a real tribute to Jody, Bobbie, Paul and the rest of Willie's "family".

Joe, Great point. It was Stardust that opened my ears to the likes of Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

Banjo Johnny, I can't believe that you asked for no flames, but I'll try to comply. I hope your opinion of Willie is not formed by the guy who sounds "exactly" like him. I've heard guys try to sound exactly like Willie, Neil Young, Dylan and many others. The soul gets lost and it's the soul that counts.

29 Jun 00 - 11:42 AM (#249202)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson

Willie is a original stylist in the same way as Dylan, Billie Halliday, Jeannie Robertson and Belle Stewart are/were. Often copied never equaled. Steve's right the soul or "Connach" as the travellers call it is the crux. You either got it or you aint.
love, john.

29 Jun 00 - 01:17 PM (#249268)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: Gary T

I admire Willie's songwriting, and enjoy his singing on many numbers. For my taste, however, his more expressive and unconventional phrasing on some songs is a real chore to listen to. I find it so hard to follow--just listening--that it distracts me and lessens the enjoyment of the song.

29 Jun 00 - 01:33 PM (#249284)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: Jim the Bart

Once more I would like to make the distinction between someone who has a "great voice", i.e. popular or pleasant tone quality, and someone who is a great singer. Willie may not have the most popular tone, but he is a great, great singer, IMHO. He may stretch the listener's ears upon first hearing, or casual listening, but if you study the guy there is no doubt about it.

As to being hard to follow rythmically (SP?), he has a natural swing to his playing that you find in a lot of honky tonk music and that is difficult to follow if you come from a rock, straight-time (4/4) context. But to imply that he is a bad time keeper is a bit misleading. He's no worse than anyone who drinks a lot and smokes a lot of dope.

I can't hep it - I love the guy!

29 Jun 00 - 07:14 PM (#249494)
Subject: RE: Phrasing and Willie Nelson
From: GUEST,Banjo Johnny

Re Sinatra - I draw a distinction between his artistic performance and his personal life. Admire the one, not the other. Same goes for Willie, but the other way around. Follow me? == Johnny in OKC